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Smash Mouth: Two Years In The Gutter With Al Gore And George W. Bush -- Notes From The 2000 Campaign Trail Hardcover – January 19, 2001

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (January 19, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465045901
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465045907
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,667,091 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In Smashmouth, Washington Post political reporter Dana Milbank offers an amusing chronicle of the 2000 presidential race. His book is much closer in spirit to Trail Fever by Michael Lewis (a hilarious report from the 1996 campaign) than it is to one of the Making of the President books by T.H. White (which provided definite accounts of the 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1972 races), which means it is often incredibly fun to read even if it isn't the defining book of the election and its meaning. Instead, Milbank focuses most of his effort on making fun of the candidates, expertly peeling off the layers of propaganda that mark any political spectacle. Here's his description of how Al Gore visits a Dairy Queen in Iowa:
You direct your 29-vehicle motorcade--two armored limousines, six vans, seven sedans, a dozen motorcycles, an ambulance, and a helicopter--to take you to the Dairy Queen. All 85 members of your entourage, including a bomb-sniffing dog and the man who carries the codes to launch nuclear missiles, descend on the ice cream shop. Police stop traffic, and security agents scurry about, speaking into microphones in their sleeves. As four photographers vie for position, you stroll to the counter to order your Chocolate Rock. Then you sit down to eat the confection and pretend not to notice that everybody in the place is staring at you.
Milbank, formerly a writer for The New Republic, occasionally flashes his biases (the GOP, he writes, is "a party often hijacked by harsh and selfish ideology"). For the most part, however, he lambastes the whole presidential selection process. He is often a participant in what he covers, as he doggedly tries to get an interview with Bush, sends a postcard to John McCain, and helps conduct a presidential poll. This allows him to make important observations that another approach might never uncover. Did you know, for instance, that it takes "6,000 calls to get 400 complete responses" for a daily tracking poll? Milbank focuses on the events leading up to the 2000 election, even though it's what happened afterward--Gore's challenge of the vote in Florida--that is most interesting and significant. Smashmouth nevertheless is great fun for readers who like a dose of laughter with their politics. --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

To its credit, this hilarious and wise behind-the-scenes look at the just-concluded U.S. presidential campaign shows that reporters don't have to take themselves too seriously to educate. Covering everything from practical jokes (most of which involve food) to the candidates' personal idiosyncrasies (such as Senator John McCain's curious assortment of lucky charms, including an imaginary reptile named Spring Hill Lizard), Milbank, staff writer at the Washington Post, takes an irreverent tour through the past two years on the road with the candidates. Of course the two major candidates--Al Gore and George W. Bush--are most central to the narrative, but the book doesn't exclude the campaign's now-forgotten candidates. He describes his and others' reactions to an early speech by Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley at Notre Dame: "I am growing sleepy. Sleepy. Fortunately, Father Hesburgh [the university's president emeritus] snores again, breaking the spell." Milbank also writes about such short-lived candidates as Bob Smith and Orrin Hatch, who quipped at one campaign event, "I'm starting to get the word out. My wife said just this morning, `I hear you're running for president.'" For all its humor, the book also manages to drive home some serious points, such as the value of tough campaigning--though, he notes, "There's a huge difference between purposeful comparisons and frivolous attacks"--to which the title refers. The difficulty of running a successful campaign comes through clearly. Early on, Milbank presciently wrote about Vice President Gore: "He's running a campaign as a centrist, and there just aren't many raging moderates out there."

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book, but it's too clever by half. Milbank is a humorous and reasonably insightful political author, and he could have produced a great work on the 2000 campaign. Smashmouth's failings are less Milbank's fault than the fault of a churn-'em-out publishing culture that needs to race campaign books to the shelves before they're cooked. Basically, Smashmouth is just a recycling of Milbank's funny Washington Post columns from the campaign trail, wadded up and wrapped with a bit of flimsy conjunction. Besides creating a superficial and weak narrative, it also results in redundancy, as repeated puns (like "JugGoreNaut") that might bring a chuckle once a week are repeated again and again just pages apart.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John G. Hilliard on September 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This was a very funny look at the 2000 presidential race. His book is not a dry blow by blow account of the race that focuses on issues, but a fun look at the process from a reports eye view. I have read a number of serious books on politics and elections and this book was a nice change of pace. If you are looking for a book to take you through the differences in the candidate's issues then this is not the book for you. It is a fun look at all the parts of a campaign that the average person would not know about.
The writing is very humorous, interesting and insightful making the book a real joy to read. It takes you through two years of debates, stump speeches and the "story of the day" news cycle that seam to define the candidates now. We even get a lot of behind the scenes info like how does a pole actually work, what is he day like for the reporters and how do the candidates get around. I also found that the author gave digs to all the candidates, not just the ones that he did not like. Overall this was a funny, smart book that is a refreshing step away from the serious books in this field.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By G. Clarke on April 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Overall, this book was quite amusing, somewhat vacuous, and a little too long. I'm not really sure what I expected from the book, but I certainly didn't expect an entire chapter on the food that the campaigns fed to journalists (and the importance of keeping journalists fat and happy during the dead zone between the primaries and election proper)! The book is about campaigning and its associated evils, but has little to say about the campaign issues, real differences between the candidates, or anything else of much substance. If you want a book about the main campaign issues and a sober analysis of Bush's tax plan or Al Gore's Medicare proposals, you will be sorely disappointed. If you want to get a taste of what it is like being a reporter on the campaign trail, however, the book can be fascinating. One thing I really liked about the book was the obvious lack of `after the fact' editing - it seems to be written as the campaign was going along without the benefit of hindsight. My favorite example of this is the discussion of Florida (p. 253), where the author asserts that Florida was not `in play'. Since the book was completed after the election (indeed it has a quick discussion of the Supreme Court and Kathleen Harris), this serves as a reminder of how wrong the pundits and conventional wisdom can be during an election. Of course, the downside is that the lack of editing makes the book repetitive in places. My main complaint is that the book is too long. Although the author's cynical tone might play well over a short article in a magazine, over nearly 400 pages it does begin to grate on the nerves.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Ruffini on February 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The essential formula behind Dana Milbank's Smashmouth is this: string together clouded attempts at humor with serious reportage to produce the skeletal outlines of what is still an incoherent, non-sequitur narrative, when needed stick in a paragraph or two to summarize important month-long stretches of the campaign the author somehow missed writing about, and package it by naming your book after a rock band that most people who salivate over minor shifts in polling data have never heard of. While you're at it, disregard typos and instances where the writer repeats exactly the same information, word for word, that he included 30 pages earlier. Such are the travails of releasing a book a mere month after the presidency was decided.
Other than that, you'll have a mildly entertaining series of vignettes that might be of interest to C-SPAN junkies who haven't quite yet gotten to reading every word ever written about George W. Bush and Al Gore. On occasion, Smashmouth is worthwhile: some of the hard-headed reporting on Bush's background and philosophy might even please some of the Republicans in the audience. Other times, Milbank slips and shows his true colors as a self-indulging mouthpiece for an Eastern media establishment that looks in disbelief on any aspiring president whose values have been thus far untouched by Beltway mores and sensibilities.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book was a lot of fun. And it came at just the right time to keep me from sinking into a post-inaugural letdown. I'd forgotten that once upon a time Campaign 2000 was actually INTERESTING. Milbank packs his book with humor and insight in telling the whole tawdry story.
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